Attorney General James Announces Convictions Of Major Narcotics Distributors In “Operation Candy Crush”
AG’s Prosecution Strikes Major Blow To The Illegal Narcotics Trafficking Trade Plaguing Hudson Valley, Other New York Neighborhoods
“Operation Candy Crush” Is Latest In AG’s SURGE Initiative To Crack Down On Opioid Traffickers In Suburban And Upstate New York; To Date, 357 Alleged Traffickers Taken Off Street Through SURGE
HUDSON VALLEY – Attorney General Letitia James today announced the guilty pleas of twelve defendants for their roles as members of a large prescription pill trafficking ring operating in the Hudson Valley, that sold thousands of prescription pills including oxycodone, amphetamine, diazepam, clonazepam, and buprenorphine pills to dozens of customers on a daily basis. As a result of their pleas, several of the defendants will be sentenced to state prison sentences. The nine-month investigation was led by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), in partnership with the New York State Police (NYSP) and relied on hundreds of hours of physical surveillance and wiretapping, hidden cameras, GPS devices, undercover agents, and cooperating witnesses.
The Attorney General’s investigation – dubbed “Operation Candy Crush” due to the defendants’ reference to prescription pills as “candy” and “skittles,” among other coded terminology – marks the latest in the Attorney General’s SURGE Initiative (Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic) to root out New York’s growing – and often violent – heroin, opioid, and narcotics trafficking networks. Since launching in 2017, SURGE has taken 372 alleged traffickers off the streets.
“The narcotics trafficking trade has long ravaged communities and ruined the lives of New Yorkers throughout our state,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “My office is committed to continuing our partnerships with law enforcement entities in an effort to stop the flow of opioids into our communities and prosecute drug traffickers to the fullest extent of the law.”
“By dismantling this prescription drug trafficking ring, law enforcement saved lives. I commend the hard work of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and our members, which lead to the guilty pleas and ultimately dealt a major blow to the drug trade in the Hudson Valley,” said Acting New York State Police Superintendent Keith M. Corlett. “These pharmaceuticals, when not taken under the supervision of a doctor, can be highly addictive, even deadly, and destroy lives. We will continue this fight with our law enforcement partners to keep drugs off our streets and work to prevent prescription drug abuse.”
The ring’s main prescription pill distributor, Samantha Vantassell, of Poughkeepsie, NY, pled guilty to Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree (a class A-II felony) and Attempted Conspiracy in the Second Degree (a class C felony). She will be sentenced to 7 years in prison followed by 5 years of post-release supervision. During her guilty plea, Vantassell admitted to purchasing and reselling prescription pills, such as oxycodone, amphetamine, and buprenorphine, from other co-conspirators including Timothy Cherry. Samantha Vantassell further admitted that she then supplied those prescription pills to her customers, for further redistribution. Cherry pled guilty to Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree and Attempted Conspiracy in the Second Degree and will be sentenced to five years in prison followed by two years of post-release supervision.
Under a separate indictment, Vantassell also pled guilty to Making a Terroristic Threat (a class D violent felony). During her guilty plea, Vantassell admitted to creating an Instagram account impersonating a student at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, New York. Under that invented account, Vantassell admitted to posting a photo of the student holding what appeared to be an assault weapon, with the caption that included the statement “I’m feeling like shooting roosevelt school up.” As part of her plea, Vantassell admitted knowing her fictitious post would cause the imminent fear among the public and law enforcement that a school shooting could be carried out.
During their guilty pleas, the defendants admitted their roles as purchasers and distributors of large amounts of prescription pills – including large volumes of oxycodone – which were obtained through legitimate prescriptions and then sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, as part of his guilty plea, Arthur Volgarino admitted to obtaining large quantities of 30 milligram oxycodone pills from his prescription, and then selling the full amount of the prescription to Kimberly Bevan and Mark Thomas for resale to other individuals throughout Dutchess County. Bevan and Volgarino each pled guilty to Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree and Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and each will be sentenced to four years in prison followed by five years of post-release supervision. As part of his guilty plea, Mark Thomas admitted to purchasing prescription pills, such as oxycodone, diazepam, and clonazepam, from other individuals including John Loverro, and reselling those pills to other individuals for further distribution. Mark Thomas pled guilty to Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree and Conspiracy in the Second Degree and will be sentenced to five years in prison followed by two years of post-release supervision.
Vantassell pled guilty before Acting Dutchess County Court Judge Michael Hayes. All remaining defendants pled guilty before Dutchess County Court Judge Peter Forman.
The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Shanon Nicholas LaCorte. Nicole Keary is the Deputy Attorney General in Charge of the Organized Crime Task Force. The Division of Criminal Justice is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado.